The Washington Post
Notre Dame star was its coach at 25
Terry Brennan, a star halfback on three unbeaten Notre Dame football teams who was hailed as a wunderkind when he succeeded Irish coaching great Frank Leahy at just 25 years old in the 1950s, died Sept. 7 in suburban Chicago. He was 93.
Notre Dame announced his death but not did not disclose the cause.
Mr. Brennan led the Irish in receiving and scoring as they won back-to-back national championships in 1946 (8-0-1) and 1947 (9-0) and went 9-0-1 and finished No. 2 in 1948. His teammates included Heisman Trophy winners John Lujack and Leon Hart.
As both a player and a coach, Mr. Brennan took part in games that rank among the biggest in Notre Dame history.
In 1946, he made a key interception when the second-ranked Irish played to a 0-0 tie against No. 1 Army at packed Yankee Stadium in a matchup dubbed “The Game of the Century.”
Army drove to the Notre Dame 12, but Mr. Brennan picked off a pass at the 5. On the next play, he turned in Notre Dame’s longest run of the game, for 22 yards.
“It turned out to be kind of a dull game of the century,” he said in a 2010 interview.
Both teams finished the season unbeaten and neither played in a bowl game. Notre Dame was voted No. 1 in the final AP poll and Army finished No. 2.
A decade later, Mr. Brennan coached the Irish to a 7-0 victory over Oklahoma in 1957 to end the Sooners’ record 47-game winning streak.
After his playing career at Notre Dame, Mr. Brennan was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles but instead chose to coach at Mount Carmel High School in Chicago while earning a law degree from Depaul University. He led Mount Carmel to city championships in 1951, 1952 and 1953, then was hired to coach the freshman team at Notre Dame.
A season later, Mr. Brennan was promoted to head coach in a move that shocked the college football world. Leahy had won five national titles in 11 seasons at Notre Dame but retired due to health concerns.
Mr. Brennan started strong, with Notre Dame finishing 9-1 and ranked No. 4 in 1954 and 8-2 and No. 9 a season later. But the Irish dropped to 2-8 in 1956 despite having Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Paul Hornung, and were beaten 47-14 by Michigan State and 40-0 by Oklahoma in South Bend.
After the lopsided losses, both at Notre Dame Stadium, the school’s faculty board in control of athletics recommended that Mr. Brennan be fired. But the Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, president of the university, decided to bring him back.
Boosted by the big upset of Oklahoma, Notre Dame went 7-3 in 1957, finishing No. 10 in the AP rankings.
Mr. Brennan said in 2007 that when the Irish were blown out by Oklahoma in 1956, he took some chances that didn’t work. He felt more confident of his team’s ability in 1957, so he called the game more conservatively and the defense played particularly well.
“You never play a perfect game, but I don’t think the guys made a lot of mistakes,” he said. He recalled that the Oklahoma fans were shocked to lose on their home field.
“The silence was deafening,” he said.
Mr. Brennan was fired after the Irish finished 6-4 in 1958, with the dismissal coming four days before Christmas. The move was criticized by many for its timing. Supporters said Mr. Brennan was taking the fall after the school cut back on athletic scholarships as it raised academic standards.
Mr. Brennan finished with a record of 32-18, a .640 winning percentage. He was succeeded by Joe Kuharich, another former Notre Dame player who posted a 17-23 record in four seasons.
Mr. Brennan, who was born June 11, 1928, in Milwaukee, never coached football again. He worked in banking and investment and lived in suburban Chicago.
He was preceded in death by his wife, the former Mary Louise “Kel” Kelley. Survivors include six children; 25 grandchildren; and 32 great-grandchildren.